If you plan on traveling on I-40 at the NC/TN state lines, you should work it into your plans to stop at the Big Creek Section of the Smokies. It's a short detour off of the interstate and if you have the time to do a fairly easy 4 mile round trip hike, you'll be treated to a beautiful 35' waterfall and the outstanding swimming hole known as Midnight Hole. Even if you don't have time for the hike, there are picnic tables right next to Big Creek at the parking area. This is a very popular swimming area, so you'd better get here early to get a parking spot. This is also one of the primo early spring wildflower areas in the Smokies. Visits in early to mid April will leave you speechless.
Directions: From the North Carolina side, take I-40 west in to Tennessee and get off at the first exit 451, Waterville Rd. Take a left at the bottom of the ramp, go under I-40 and follow the road around to cross the Pigeon River. Take a left after the bridge on the road that heads up the right side of the river. At 1.4 miles from the exit, cross a bridge at the Progress Energy power station. At 1.7 miles, the road turns to gravel. Pass Mountain Momma's and a crude private campground on the left and come to a stop sign at 2.3 miles. Keep straight - the road ends at 3.2 miles in a parking circle and camping area. Just before entering the parking area, look to the right for the Big Creek Trail to Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls. It's also a horse trail, so no dogs are allowed. This is also the parking for the Baxter Creek Trail which is also excellent for spring wildflowers. You'll see varieties on this trail that you won't see on the Big Creek Trail.
Once you get parked, you have 2 options for picking up the Big Creek Trail. The trail actually begins at the trail head you passed as you pulled into the parking area, but you can also walk back into the tent camping area at the opposite end of the parking lot and pick up a trail on the left side of the bathrooms. In early spring, this area is loaded with wildflowers. The trail meanders in the woods for a bit, then climbs steeply for a short distance to connect on to the Big Creek Trail. The trail is a closed road and is rock in spots, but is fairly level. It follows Big Creek up stream and in some areas, you can get out to the creek for a look. About 1.5 miles up the trail, Big Creek is squeezed in between 2 large boulders in an area called Midnight Hole. The pool below the 5-6' cascade is large and deep. People climb and jump from the boulders and you can expect a lot of company on a hot summer day. You really have to be paying attention to spot it. There's no sign indicating that this is Midnight Hole, but the trail is close enough to the creek at this point that you can spot the pool. You'll have to scramble down the rocks for a closer view.
Midnight Hole with a lot of people
In another 0.5 miles there are a couple of make-shift hitching posts on the left and a little side trail leading to the creek and Mouse Creek Falls. At this point, Mouse Creek empties into Big Creek forming the waterfall. The falls and setting are absolutely gorgeous. The falls first spills about 20' over a moss covered rock face into a pool, then another 10-15' over more moss covered rocks into Big Creek. Below is an older video of Mouse Creek, then Midnight Hole, and more photos of the area. If you continue up the trail for maybe another 1/4 mile, you'll come to a bridge across Big Creek. Cross the bridge and go down the bank on the left for access to that great swimming hole!
Mouse Creek Falls & Midnight Hole from Rich Stevenson on Vimeo.
Big Creek from the bridge past Mouse Creek Falls
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